Our puppy Vader is now roughly six months old -give or take a few weeks. We all together have survived the last ten weeks without major damage to animals, humans, or surroundings.
Last week my next-door neighbor, the one who has made it her mission to get me to church, the one I secretly call Nosey-Rosey because she sticks her nose into everybody’s business but her own, the hypochondriac who self-diagnoses her fictional illnesses with the help of web-meds, brought me a pamphlet on how to raise a puppy. I laughed out quietly inside, took the flyer, thanked her, and forgot all about the brochure until the next day when my husband picked it up, and read it.
“Well,” he said and he looked very earnest, “Looks like we fucked another one up,” and then he grinned. I lost it. His face, his tone, the harsh choice of words, and the fact that we probably had ten well-behaved dogs in our long time together -not to count all the fosters- and the simple truth that our neighbor doesn’t have pets (allergies she says) made it even more fun. I could not stop giggling.
Curiously, I took the How-To-Raise-A-Puppy-Pamphlet and read it myself. Oh dear, no wonder my husband had made such a dramatic statement. It sure sounds like we do everything wrong, or -and that might be a bit far stretched- we are the (only) ones who know how to raise a puppy and the rest of the flyer-writing population has no clue?
I looked at Vader, who, when you talk to him, cocks his head to the side, “Vader,” I said, we are going to fuck you up too.”
What are we doing wrong? According to the little flyer EVERYTHING and then some!
Flyer Theory: If the puppy has an accident, gently scoop it up, don’t shout and don’t raise your voice, and bring it outside. Set it in the grass and wait for it to do its business, then praise it.
Reality: WTH? They lost me with ‘gently’. I am the one who cleans the accidents, just in case you didn’t guess. There is no gentle scooping, there is however a frantic quick transport of the puppy to the backyard, of course, all while the little dog is still peeing. Outside I put the puppy down, and don’t wait for him to empty himself (Because HELLO he just did) but instead point to the grass and like a general, I repeat the words PEEPEE OUTSIDE numerous times.
On our way back inside, I remember that I forgot to ring the poopy bell -which was meant to ding-ding on our way out. A sad older nylon chain with little bells, from a time when the Denver Broncos were still worth watching. Believe it or not, the dogs get it quickly. They ring the bell when the sliding door is closed.
Flyer Theory: Do not rub the puppy’s nose in the pee! Don’t make a big fuss!
Reality: Of course, I don’t rub his nose in the pee -at least not the first time. But I am not quiet when I find an accident. I make sure the puppy sees -and hears me- when I dramatically point to the mistake he just made.
Flyer Theory: Dogs don’t speak human!
Reality: That’s where they are totally wrong because our dogs do, and they do not just learn WORDS, no, they learn complete sentences like “One more time my friend, and you will pack your little suitcase,” which will quickly be understood just like the sign language that goes with it.
A simple gesture with my finger across my throat is always very effective.
Flyer Theory: If you have more than one dog, feed them separately to make sure the puppy gets the proper nutrition and eats its puppy food, while the adult dogs get the adult food.
Reality: Well, while it might sound reasonable, one could also just mix the adult food with the puppy food equal parts 50:50 and spread it into two bowls, and watch from afar to make sure there is no food aggression and they share nicely. Just saying.
Flyer Theory: The puppy should not sleep in bed, but in a crate or kennel.
Reality: While I happen to agree with the statement, I can honestly say that if you are sleep deprived, and you walk around like a zombie because the puppy whines for hours in the crate -every night- you quickly don’t care anymore where the dog sleeps. At a point when you wish to go into the crate yourself, you let them sleep in your bed just to get a few hours of undisturbed shut-eye. It happened with Patches, who is now almost seven years old and it happened with Vader as well. Both sleep on their beds during the night -Vader even sleeps in his crate but only with an open door, which stuns me every night- and in the morning hours, after my husband gets up, they jump on the bed and roll up on THEIR blanket, which is waiting for them at my feet. We have a routine down and it serves us all well!
Flyer Theory: Don’t shout at the puppy! It just scares them!
Reality: Good! While I don’t shout or yell, they quickly learn to understand the different nuances. Do I call Vader with a sweet singing voice or VAAADDDDDDEEER (sounding indeed a lot like the Darth Vader he was named after) or do I call Mr. Vader? Just like with humans, when you are being called by your middle name you know you are in trouble. The dogs learn quickly as well.
Flyer Theory: You are supposed to train the puppy not the other way around!
Reality: That sounds a lot like the dog whisperer Caesar Milan, doesn’t it? He lives in a perfect world, we live in ours. Of course, the puppy is training us, watch my husband how he gives out dog treats on command. How do you think the dogs end up sleeping with me?
Flyer Theory: Puppy-Proof your home?
Reality: Hmmm, while I might agree…… Nope ain’t gonna happen, honestly, we only have a motion-activated trashcan in the kitchen because we like it (liar, liar pants on fire). OK, I admit it, we bought the trashcan because we had a very smart Weimaraner girl who studied trashcans and digested kitchen cloth by the pound. Besides that, we don’t puppy-proof our home, the poor little creatures have to live through a thousand NoNo’s for the first months, and they all learn to respect our home because it’s their home as well.
Flyer Theory: Don’t teach the puppy too many words, keep it simple, “sit”, ‘down”, “stay”, and “come” don’t confuse it.
Where is the fun in that? And why don’t they mention the rather simple commands like “WTH” or “SERIOUSLY,” used as often as “ARE YOU KIDDING ME” and “YOU BETTER RUN FORREST?”
I have a sign language that works wonderful, just like Robert de Niro in “The Little Fockers” I point to my eyes and to them. I swear our dogs know the gesture very well, also it assures that they actually have eye contact and pay attention (which makes me think I probably should try the gesture on my husband as well).
Just while I am writing this, my husband, who believes the dogs can read the clock, came home. I got a quick kiss, and then he walked -followed by the dogs- into the living room. “I know what time it is,” he says and sits downs with a big grin on his face. Then he picks up the treat container and gives out treats left and right like he would be throwing candy into a crowd on a parade. They trained him well! Sometimes I think they just pretend to love the treats to make him happy.
On a serious note, dogs, just like people are diverse and react differently. There is no one-fits-all approach, some are clowns, while others are sensitive. One needs praise, while the other needs challenges. Dog training, just like teaching kids or adults, needs to be adjusted to the needs of the individuals and the pet. What works for us, works because it’s just who we are.
Why am I the alpha dog? I am the one who trains the dogs, and I am the one who cleans up their messes. Just like a mom with her kids, I am tougher and see through their GAMES a bit faster. I can sense TROUBLE happening and I have eyes on the back of my head, like all women.
They are with me all day long, which puts me automatically in charge and now I have to stop writing this post because I just heard my husband getting up. As soon as he is in the bathroom I can sneak to the fridge and they will get the leftover chicken tenders I promised the dogs yesterday.
Our Vader is doing great. Our older dog Patches is happy and tired, and we are happy too. Life is good!